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ACCA affiliate admonished for cyber harassment

An ACCA affiliate was admonished this month and had to pay costs of £5000 after allegations of harassment were found proved against him.

12th Apr 2021
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The accused affiliate, Ravi Juthani, first registered with the ACCA as a student during early 2013. He graduated two years later and became an affiliate, which he remains today.

Juthani applied to become an ACCA affiliate during 2019; whilst completing his application, he was prompted to give full disclosure and declare any previous offences or convictions that would go against the accounting body’s guidelines.

It was then that Juthani disclosed his involvement in the harassment of three other people, for which he was convicted during 2011.

Convictions

The ACCA disciplinary report states that between April and May 2011, whilst studying at Nottingham University, Juthani was found guilty of harassing a woman (Person A). He was sending explicit emails, photographs, and demands via Facebook and Hotmail.

At the same time, Juthani was found to be harassing another woman (Person B), via similar digital medias. He sent Person B numerous emails and explicit photographs, in the knowledge that his behaviour amounted to direct harassment.

Between March and May of the same year, Juthani was proven to be harassing another woman (Person C). This again involved digital harassment via email. 

Each of these convictions go against the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.

As well as this, the report states that between March and May 2011 Juthani "caused a computer to perform a function with intent to secure unauthorised access to data". This is contrary to the Computer Misuse Act 1990.

Disciplinary action

As Juthani failed to inform the ACCA of these convictions when he initially registered as a student, the disciplinary committee proposed him to be guilty of misconduct pursuant to the association’s byelaws.

Juthani admitted that the facts of the various allegations were true, thereby proving them by virtue of his admissions.

However, he did not admit misconduct in regards to his failure to inform the ACCA of these convictions when he initially registered.

The committee accepted Juthani's argument that he was unaware of his duty to report previous convictions when applying for student membership.

In the absence of any deliberate non-disclosure, the report states that the committee concluded that Juthani was not guilty of misconduct as proposed.

For the same reasons, the accused was therefore not liable to any disciplinary action.

Admonishment

The report states that the committee deliberated on what sanction, if any, to give to Juthani. They considered that it would not be in the best public interest to take no action whatsoever, given the seriousness of the convictions that were proven true.

There was also the loss of opportunity for the ACCA to properly assess Juthani’s student eligibility during 2013 to consider in the proceedings.

The report states that Juthani “demonstrated substantial remorse and remediation”, and has not had any further convictions since those which he admitted to.

They therefore decided that an admonishment was a “sufficient and proportionate sanction” in this case.

Costs

Juthani was charged costs of £5000, which he accepted. The Committee reportedly did not deem it necessary to make any immediate orders.

Matthew Corrie, consultant to Blake Morgan LLP, comments:

Chris Cope represented Mr Juthani before ACCA's disciplinary committee.

Mr Juthnai faced an allegation of failing to disclose his previous convictions when applying to become a student in 2013. It was successfully argued that Mr Juthani was not guilty of misconduct because there was some ambiguity on the application form as to what was to be declared.

In regard to the convictions Mr Juthani, who had self-referred these matters whilst applying to become a member of ACCA upon the completion of his exams in 2019, accepted that these amounted to misconduct.  Mr Juthani agreed that his actions would bring himself, the ACCA and the profession into disrepute. 

The sanctions available to the disciplinary committee were: no further action; admonishment; reprimand; severe reprimand; removal from the affiliate register.

However, it was successfully argued that the matter could be disposed of by way of an admonishment taking into account that: Mr Juthani's conduct had taken place a considerable time ago; Mr Juthani greatly regretted, was remorseful for and ashamed of his actions and in the subsequent years had passed his accountancy exams and matured such that he presented as a different person. 

Given the seriousness of the conduct underlying the allegations this sanction can be considered a successful outcome for Mr Juthani but also illustrates a good example of ACCA's disciplinary committee acting in a fair and proportionate manner.

Moreover, the case highlights the importance both for regulators to make clear exactly what matters are required to be declared and for applicants and members to ensure they understand what declarations they must make.

It is worth noting that since Mr Juthani's application in 2013, ACCA's application form for membership has been amended to require a declaration that the applicant has: 'not been subject to any criminal conviction and/or caution'; 'not been disciplined by any professional body and/or regulator'; and 'not been subject to any other matters which may engage Byelaw 8 that have not already been brought to the attention of ACCA’s Assessment or Investigations Department in writing.' 

This updated declaration leaves the applicant in no doubt as to the need to declare any convictions, cautions, disciplinary findings or any other matters which may engage Byelaw 8 and the consequences of any failure to declare such matters. However, experience shows that applicants can still be unsure as to whether a matter should be declared, and if so it may be worth seeking legal advice before submitting any application.

Should accountants require advice or representation please feel free to get in touch with Chris Cope, Matthew Corrie or Samantha Hatt.

Replies (13)

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By Paul Crowley
12th Apr 2021 21:07

This demonstrates that a good advocate can turn a hopeless case into the lowest formal punishment possible
Well done Chris
Worth every penny

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By JamesDS
13th Apr 2021 10:24

So, he gets his life back in order and then it all comes crashing down again because years previously he omitted a full declaration of offences? Whatever happened to rehabilitation of offenders?

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Replying to JamesDS:
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By Rgab1947
13th Apr 2021 14:20

In a previous jurisdiction where I was a member of a professional accounting body we had to declare each year we were proper and fit persons which the definition being no fraud conviction or any conviction of a serious nature (I cannot recall which as it was a list of offences. Included Court imposed tax censures) Past convictions would still make you an unfit or not proper person for the purposes of being registered.

Harsh? Yes but it ensured squeeky clean reputations.

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By Jdopus
13th Apr 2021 10:28

A little shocking that they hit him with a £5,000 bill for a ruling which found he committed a minor offense at worst. I know they call it "costs" rather than "fines", but the reliance of the professional bodies on using people who charge such high fees for such straightforward work has a tendency to make even minor matters extremely penalizing.

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Replying to Jdopus:
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By BryanS1958
13th Apr 2021 10:57

And no doubt he will have a hefty bill for representation. Obviously what he did wasn't correct, but he seems to have self-declared and has matured and is remorseful since the offences occurred. Everyone makes mistakes, in most cases they shouldn't be punished again for the same offence.

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Replying to Jdopus:
By Silver Birch Accts
13th Apr 2021 15:32

I don't believe these were minor offences, not to the ladies concerned.

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Replying to Silver Birch Accts:
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By Jdopus
14th Apr 2021 08:50

I was not referring to the original offences for harassment.

ACCA's committee has nothing whatsoever to do with those, which clearly fall under the jurisdiction of criminal courts. The offence being ruled on here was a failure to disclose and the ruling was that he was unaware of the requirement to disclose these.

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By Munch
13th Apr 2021 10:58

This is very difficult. Rehabilitation is important, even when the original convictions are really horrible. If we do not allow for rehabilitation what is left for the offenders. Clearly ACCA procedures were rubbish. It feels this chap has been prosecuted again. I have some issue that this case has been publicised and not redacted at all where in fact there really was no case to answer in this specific matter. He has been punished already and rightly he will have to disclose his offences for future work opportunities. Is that not sufficient. I think ACCA have taken it upon themselves to be judge and jury when they had no right to. Really difficult.

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By Munch
13th Apr 2021 10:59

Also, any one of us looking at this can share it on LinkedIn.......would you?

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Danny Kent
By Viciuno
13th Apr 2021 11:16

Have to agree with the above comments. Almost criminal to charge "costs" of £5,000 for what is quite frankly and open and closed case.

He committed an offence a decade ago, he disclosed it voluntarily (albeit late) and admitted he missed it off his student application.

These costs are, in my opinion, unduly harsh - I would assume he disclosed the convictions to his employers? If they are happy then how has this brought disrepute to the profession?

Are the Daily Mail or Gossip magazine writing headlines about how a young offender has joined the ranks of ACCA and that everyone should check who their accountants are registered with and immediately leave if they are ACCA.

Do you know what is bringing the organisation into disrepute? ACCA members who are unfit to practice but despite complaints still have their practicing certs. ACCA members who are part of large firms that constantly fall short of auditing guidelines and best practice. ACCA partners in multinational firms that claim furlough for their lowest paid employees and still pay out 6 figure profits to partners. ACCA disciplinarily committee punishing a reformed criminal for failing to fill in a form properly - especially when they agreed that the form was unfit for purpose and had to be updated to remove ambiguity.

What a waste of our membership fees calling a disciplinary tribunal over this.

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By unclejoe
13th Apr 2021 11:35

I think anyone interested in this case would do well to read about changes in the law relating to “non-crime hate incidents”. In a nutshell, anyone reported to the police for a non-crime hate incident, even where the report may be malicious, will find themselves on a police database and the allegation will be disclosed on an enhanced criminal record search even though no crime has been committed let alone a conviction. At present I don’t think that would affect accountants, but for how long? And there are proposals to strengthening and extending the law in this area. You can read about cases in this area at https://freespeechunion.org/.

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By hfiddes
13th Apr 2021 11:45

As a pretty old ICAS person (who can remember when you got disciplined for being 3 months late with your annual subs), I remember that we all filled out our student forms in a room with the personnel lady in charge. The confession by one of our cohort of how they got their conviction for being drunk in charge of a bicycle had us all in stitches.

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Scooby
By gainsborough
13th Apr 2021 12:20

A really difficult one to call and fully take on board the rehabilitation points, self-referral by the individual and remorse shown. However, as an accountant, he will have access to some very personal details of his female clients and it is something that should at least be noted on his private record with the ACCA just in case any similar accusations were to be made in future.

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